To Market, To Market

Serious self-published authors never stop promoting their books.


Last month I wrote a column about how self-published authors, such as yours truly, are frequently bashed by authors who have been “traditionally” published.

The implication was that all Amazonians, with very little intellectual effort, are clogging up the literary streambed with unreadable flotsam and jetsam, making it hard for “real” authors to earn a living.

(There is even a sub-genre of “How to Write” books giving advice on how to e-publish. I’m thinking about putting out my own How to Write Garbage, since that title has apparently not been used yet.)

Some of the criticism is, of course, right on the money. Many self-published authors do just dump badly edited, badly formatted, badly written garbage into the stream. “Traditional” authors, especially mid-list writers, are getting lost in the sewage.

But the problem is not solely the fault of the self-published crowd. The big guns (Patterson, Grisham, Cook, etc.) dominate the publishing world and squeeze most others out because agents are afraid to take a chance on an unknown. For every breakthrough that captures the reading public’s fancy — Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey (gasp!) and the like — there are thousands of worthy novels that wind up in the slush pile and never see the light of day. And even if a few manage to be published, they are often lost amid the avalanche of books put out by the mega-authors.

And careers die aborning.

I know for a fact that James Patterson left his grocery list lying around one day and his secretary sent it off to a publisher by mistake. After minimal editing, it sold almost a million copies. You don’t believe that? I got it directly from a White House press briefing.

For those of us who take the self-publishing business seriously, the road is not easy. I have published 16 thrillers and mysteries over the past decade or so to middling success. (I probably couldn’t afford to pay for Patterson’s groceries.)

I believe, honestly, that one or two of my books, at least, might have been traditionally published in the non-mega-author era. Since they had sequels, who knows? Perhaps I would have a “legacy” career. A TV or movie deal? Oprah? A knighthood? Forgive me, I’m fantasizing.

But why complain? I’m doing something I love. Some of my books have sold in the thousands. I can deduct expenses on my tax return (unlike some people we know, I still pay taxes). I have a bit of a fan base. I edit and re-edit. I have beta readers who proofread. I revise editions. I purchase good covers.

I also try to market my books. In the past, I’ve relied on email, Facebook, and Twitter postings, which are time-consuming. Now, I’ve started spending heavily on promotion with mass email marketers such as BookBub, Fussy Librarian, Book Gorilla, and the like.

For an upfront fee, one of my books, if accepted, can be featured in an email sent to people who have signed up for such notices. The emails are slick, containing cover photos, author profiles, and links to Amazon and other internet sellers. They are also targeted for specific genres, such as thrillers, crime fiction, mysteries, etc. 

BookBub is by far the most expensive, but in certain categories, its mailings go out to millions of potential readers looking for books in a specific genre. You can price your book, which usually must be discounted from its regular price, from “free” on up, with the best results being in the $0.99 to $2.99 range. The higher you set your price, the higher the fee.

My experience to date is this: If you offer the book for free, you will be out your fee — which could run up to $1,000 — but you will reach thousands of readers who may buy your other books (which is why this works best with a series). If you charge a price for a book, you will probably at least recoup your fee, and may make some money on it and your other books.

The rub is that BookBub, in particular, only accepts about 20 percent of the books it gets, and limits authors to one book a month or so. Their list is clogged by, you guessed it, big-name authors like Patterson.

So far, I’ve had one of my books selected out of a dozen tries. But I’ll keep plugging away.

That’s what we serious Amazonians do.

Lawrence De Maria, once a Pulitzer-nominated New York Times reporter, has written 16 thrillers and mysteries on Amazon.com. His most recent thriller, THAWED, is available at ST. AUSTIN’S PRESS (BOOKS BY DE MARIA). He would settle for a peerage.  

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